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Celebrity Cruises

Millennium
by Joe Reynolds
Panama Canal
March 19, 2006

We recently sailed on Celebrity's Millennium from Valparaiso,Chile to Fort Lauderdale, via the Panama Canal.

We arrived in Santiago and stayed at the Santiago Sheraton hotel. We had nice lunch in the top of the San Cristobal tower section of the hotel, with a beautiful view of the city, which is 571 meters above sea level. We went to Los Dominicos market and looked around, then walked through the local downtown, stopping for a bite to eat at a nice sidewalk cafe (Lomits).

We arrived in Santiago on Friday, March 17; Saturday night we went to a local dinner show at Los de Adobes Argomedo and after the show had great fun dancing.

The next day (Sunday, March 19) we had our luggage picked up outside the room and we went on a private pre-arranged tour to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso before being dropped off at the ship by 5 p.m. (This was about an 80-mile drive.)

We sailed just after 9 p.m. for Arica, Chile, which is close to the border with Peru in the northern part of Chile. The shipboard atmosphere was jolly. Captain Apostolos Bouzakis is a charming Greek fellow. Simon Weir was our cruise director; we previously met him on another cruise when the Millennium sailed the Baltic Sea, her second voyage. He is the best. His brother Nick was cruise director on the South American Horn Cruise in February 2004, and is also very good.

On Wednesday, after two wonderful sea days, we arrive in Arica, Chile at 7 a.m. We had previously booked a short local ship's tour of the city and the Geoglyphs in the area. It only lasted about four hours, but did go up the El Morro mountain around some very winding curves on roads without guard rails. We did not take the trip to the Lauca National Park, which seemed to be a very long ride. We returned to the ship, had lunch and then walked back into the city and to the Main Street, which is kind of a pedestrian promenade.

Passenger Tragedy
We returned to the ship and were scheduled to depart at 6 p.m. We noticed that we were not departing, but we went to early main seating dinner. We went to the Celebrity Showroom after dinner to watch the Pampas Devils Argentina Tango show. While sitting in the showroom we were advised that around 4:30 p.m. a fatal accident occurred and 12 of our fellow passengers were killed while returning from a tour. We were delayed in Arica for 15 hours while the captain assisted those in need and the chief concierge left the ship to fly to the states and bring families of the deceased to Arica. A doctor and nurse from the ship were sent into town to the hospital to assist with two injured passengers who had both lost their wives in the accident. For a video click here: AOL News

We arrived in Callao, Peru at 11 a.m. Friday after two days at sea, four hours behind schedule. I was scheduled to take a Nazca Lines tour, but due to the delay, the tour was canceled and Celebrity credited my account ($535) for this one tour and also gave my wife and me a free tour of Lima, Peru (10 km. from Callao). Celebrity was under no obligation to do this and had nothing to do with booking the fatal tours. Everyone on board was proud of the way Celebrity handled the incident. We had a very nice tour of an ancient city. We departed Callao at 8 p.m.

On Sunday at 8 a.m., after two days at sea, we arrived in Manta, Ecuador. We were aware of the high incidence of malaria in this area, but the Plasmodium is transmitted by the Anopheles Mosquito, which is really a night biter. We took no medication since we spent only the day there. Manta is the center for the Ecuadorian Tuna industry and is the home of Charlie Tuna. Manta has been a major port since the pre- Inca era. The road from Manta to Montecristi has many warehouses and factories related to the tuna industry. We visited a factory that processed the aqua nut into Ecuador marble and bought several small figurines. Montecristi is the home of Panama hats, and we visited a market with many handicrafts including the famous hats. A lot of the small children are trying to sell goods, but they are very polite and not pushy or aggressive.

Canal Transit
On Tuesday, after two days at sea, we arrived for the Panama Canal transit. My old map from 1995 did not have the new Centennial Bridge on it that was built in 2003, but otherwise was very helpful in letting us realize where we were. It takes about eight hours to transit the 50 mile length of the canal, which runs from southeast (Pacific) to northwest (Atlantic). One can get confused if you seem to see the sun setting in the East. Since 1999, the canal has belonged to Panama, but the U.S. still has Howard Air Force Base close by for security. Apparently Japan and the United States are the biggest users of the Panama Canal.

We entered the Miraflores locks (two locks) about 7 a.m., then proceeded into Miraflores Lake. We went through the Pedro Miguel locks to reach a point 85 feet above sea level, then went into the Culebra (meaning snake) Cut, a nine-mile section crossing the continental divide (this portion is now named the Galliard Cut after a Major Galliard). At the end of the Galliard Cut is Gamboa and a portion of the Chagres River that feeds Gatun Lake. There is another dam higher up on the Chagres River to help control this river, which has been known to rise 14 feet in 24 hours.

On Thursday, March 30, after another two days at sea, we arrived at Aruba at 7 a.m. This is a long, narrow island with some beautiful beaches. We spent the day at MoomBa Beach, between the Holiday Inn and the Marriott Ocean club. This turned out to be a very comfortable beach with trees for shade. Lounges were free with the purchase of drinks and food.

On April 2, 2006, we arrived in Fort Lauderdale and after a nice breakfast on the balcony finally walked off the ship and flew home without any mishaps. It was a great cruise -- only marred by the terrible accident outside of Arica.

Pictures here: Joe Reynolds